Archive of March 3, 2012

Diocese hosts Natural Family Planning seminar

Dodge City, Kan., Mar 3, 2012 (CNA) - First the bad news: Since 1972, the number of Catholics in the United States has increased by nearly 17 million; yet, in the same time period there has been a decrease in marriages in the Catholic Church by an astounding 60 percent.

That’s 8.6 marriages per 1,000 in 1972, versus 2.6 per 1,000 today.

According to guest speakers at a Natural Family Planning seminar held recently at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dodge City, Kan., part of the reason for this – a large reason, in fact – is contraception.

The notion may seem difficult to accept. One of the reasons why so many fewer Catholics are marrying is the dramatic increase in the divorce rate. It’s understandable: the national divorce rate is at approximately 50 percent – that’s one out of two marriages ending in a divorce.

Here’s the good news: For those married couples using the Natural Family Planning (NFP) method for achieving or postponing pregnancy (instead of contraception), the divorce rate is a low 3.5 percent.

What is Natural Family Planning?

NFP is an umbrella term for several methods, all of which ask the couple to observe the naturally occurring signs of fertile and non-fertile phases of a woman’s cycle. It differs greatly from the formerly popular “rhythm method,” which assumes a woman’s cycle to be 29 days, when in truth, it can vary greatly from cycle to cycle.

It seems to be one of the best kept secrets of the Catholic Church – which will change, with continued catechesis of existing programs, and some new initiatives regarding NFP.

For example, Sarah Jameson is a registered nurse who works with the new NaPro (Natural Procreative) technology center at St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City, Kan. which, among its other functions, instructs couples about NFP. According to a publication released at a conference introducing NaPro, the technology is up to three times more successful than in vitro fertilization at helping infertile couples have children, and at a much lower cost. The study noted that NaPro is 79 percent effective at helping women have a successful pregnancy after they have suffered repetitive miscarriages.

Bishop John B. Brungardt of Dodge City, Kan., with the help of a grant from the Catholic Extension Office, hopes to hire a full-time director of a new “Marriage, Family Life and NFP” office for the diocese of Dodge City.

NFP is not a “Catholic” method, but is a method strongly approved by the Catholic Church. According to guest speaker Father Michael Habiger, O.S.B., Ph.D., “There is no such thing as Catholic ovaries or Protestant progesterone.”

Still, the notion that it is a “Catholic” program has turned some people away from NFP, including top physicians who haven’t taken the time to learn how it works.

Dr. Martha Garza, MD, an OB/Gyn specialist in reproductive endocrinology from San Antonio, Texas, told those gathered that her professors in medical school, including world-renowned specialists, confused NFP with the “rhythm method” because they didn’t know the facts.

She said that since NFP was associated with the Catholic Church, it was ignored or dismissed entirely. Meanwhile, as a medical student she was never informed of the possible harmful effects of contraceptives, some of which she said suppresses hormones important to the body.

Dr. Garza expressed remorse for the years that she prescribed such contraceptive devices, and told how she had a conversion experience while attending a training program at the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Neb.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “NFP gave me simpler and much more reliable information to help people get pregnant!”

Sadly, when she informed her clients of the change in her practice, she lost 60 percent of her patients, most of whom she said were Catholic.

Why would divorce statistics be so starkly different when comparing couples using contraception to those using NFP? While the methodology of NFP is entirely scientific, the benefits are, according to Father Habiger, deeply spiritual. He said that drastically lower divorce rate statistics – along with his having spoken to hundreds of couples across the country – holds proof that “their respect for this plan brings them greater intimacy, better communications, a more satisfying sexual life, and much happiness.”

Posted with permission from the Southwest Kansas Register, official newspaper for the Diocese of Dodge City, Kan.

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Gospel Trail springs to life in the Holy Land

Nazareth, Israel, Mar 3, 2012 (CNA) -

A new project launched by Jews and Christians in the Holy Land offers pilgrims the chance to walk the land of the Bible in the footsteps of Jesus and experience the places where he lived and ministered.

“This is a unique opportunity” to connect with “the beginning of Christianity,” project manager Amir Moran told CNA in Nazareth on Jan. 27. 

The “Gospel Trail,” which has been open to the public since November of last year, follows historical paths that Jesus took when he left his childhood home of Nazareth and began his ministry around Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee.

“When you walk on these trails with these sites and these landscapes you feel just like” the disciples, Moran said, noting that the initiative officially launched at a Nov. 29 ceremony held by local Church leaders.  

The project manager, who is Jewish, said the idea for the trail came to him about 10 years ago. Over the course of three treks along the Christian pilgrimage route the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James), Moran felt even more of an impetus to create the trail.

“When I was in Spain,” he recalled, “I talked with the travelers, with many of them, and I asked 'what do you think about such a trail in the Holy Land'?”

Although Moran said the response was unanimously enthusiastic, he remembered most people questioning whether or not they would be safe. 

In making the trail, “we put a lot of effort into making people feel comfortable,” he emphasized. “Generally, it's a very quiet area. There's no danger, there's no terrorism, it's not in the news.”

The trail includes over 35 miles of well-marked footpaths and roads that can be traveled by walking, driving or bicycling. 

The primary route begins at Mount Precipice, mentioned in Luke 4:28-30, which recounts the people of Nazareth attempting to drive Christ off a cliff in response to his teachings. This route also winds through the Jezreel Valley, passes through the Beit Qeshet Oak Reserve, and skirts the cliffs of 1,000 ft.-tall cliffs of Arbel Mountain, before going by Magdala, Tabgha and Capernaum.

A secondary route includes Mount Tabor and the Church of the Transfiguration, the town of Cana, the extinct volcano Karnei Hattin (the Horns of Hattin), Mount Arbel and the Mount of Beatitudes.

Both routes culminate at the Sea of Galilee, where Gospel Trail participants will conclude their spiritual journey at the Sea of Galilee. A special dock on the shoreline was also created to provide areas for prayer and inspirational solitude.

Overall, the project has been “a great joy” from start to finish, Moran said, urging those interested to look into visiting.

For more information, please click here

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Priest says denial of Communion requires discretion

Washington D.C., Mar 3, 2012 (CNA) - Amid controversy over reports that a Maryland women was denied Communion because of her lesbian relationship, a priest who writes on faith and culture emphasized the need to balance respect for the Eucharist with pastoral sensitivity. 

“These are delicate matters,” said Msgr. Charles Pope, who blogs about culture and current events for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

He explained to CNA on March 2 that it “requires some judgment on the part of the priest” to apply Church teaching on when to deny Communion to an individual.

On Feb. 28, the Washington Post reported that Barbara Johnson was denied Communion at her mother’s funeral after introducing her lesbian partner to the priest before Mass.

The incident took place on Feb. 25 at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., which falls within the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. Johnson said that Fr. Marcel Guarnizo covered the host and told her that by living in a lesbian relationship, she was sinning in the eyes of the Church.
Canon 915 of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law instructs that those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin should not be admitted to Holy Communion.

Msgr. Pope explained that this means the priest must know that the person’s sin is grave, that it is manifest – or well-known – and that the individual in question is obstinate in his or her sin before denying the sacrament.

That generally means that the priest “would need to meet with them privately,” he said.

Conflicting reports make it unclear whether Fr. Guarnizo had warned Johnson upon meeting her partner before Mass that she should not present herself for Communion.

Msgr. Pope said that in his experience, most people do refrain from coming forward for Communion when the circumstances are explained to them.

However, sometimes they do not, he said, and such situations require “prudential judgment” by the priest “in that moment.”

He explained that a priest may have to make an instantaneous judgment when he sees the individual come forward for Communion. Even if the person has already been warned, perhaps he or she did not hear properly or did not understand.

“Right there at the altar may not be the time or the place” to offer a better explanation, he said.

Ultimately, he explained, there is a “great deal of discretion” required by the priest as he seeks to apply the principles laid out in Canon 915.

Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout, vicar general of the archdiocese, wrote a letter to Johnson apologizing for the “lack of pastoral sensitivity” shown to her.

However, Johnson said that she will “not be satisfied” until Fr. Guarnizo is removed from his ministry. She wrote a letter telling the priest that he would “pay dearly” for “judging” her.

“I will do everything in my power to see that you are removed from parish life,” she said.

Gay advocates have been fighting fiercely in Maryland, which recently became the eighth state to pass legislation legalizing “gay marriage.”

Fr. William Byrne, secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington, responded to the incident with a statement, which was published in the Washington Post on March 1.

He explained that priests have “an obligation to make sure that the sacraments are respected.”

In the case that a person is in a state of mortal sin, he or she should not receive Holy Communion, Fr. Byrne said. 

Although the communicant is primarily responsible for determining his or her own worthiness to receive the Eucharist, there are some “extreme cases” in which “it is appropriate to consider denying Communion,” he explained.

Priests should ideally handle such situations by discussing them privately with the person before denying them Communion, he added. 

“No one is entitled to the Eucharist,” Fr. Byrne said, noting that the ability to receive the Body and Blood of Christ is “a blessing and a grace.”

Msgr. Pope emphasized that the goal of Canon 915 is not to keep sinners away from the sacraments but to “restore them to communion” with the Church.

Trying to spare people from receiving unworthily is “part of the pastoral practice of the Church,” he said.

He added that it is not just homosexual activity that is condemned by the Church as a grave sin, but many other activities as well, including an unmarried heterosexual couple cohabiting or an individual in an invalid marriage.

The Catholic Church is “not trying to single out” homosexuals, he said. “To receive the Eucharist worthily is essential.”

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